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White Mountain Labor Day Weekend
Show Low, Pinetop
August 31-September 2, 2019
by Tamar Gottfried

Thompson Trail 629
  GPS Map 

Fourteen trailblazers converged on Pinetop café La Vie on a sunny Saturday morning. After greetings, coffee and hearty breakfasts for some, we organized into carpools and drove 40 miles to the Thompson Trail parking area. There we met two additional hikers who had spent the night in their RV nearby at Big Lake.

Trailblazers ready to hike the Thompson Trail. [photo by Lin]
Terry, Joe, Carl, Michelle, Mark, Heather, Chris, Debbie, Barry, Bettye, Tamar
A pleasant stream. [photo by Lin]
Merrily, merrily, down the trail we go. [photo by Tom]
Jim takes it all in stride. [photo by Lin]
Dark clouds ahead. [photo by Li]
Trailblazers on the march. [photo by Li]
Stay on the main trail. [photo by Tom]
Just us girls. [photo by Li]
Water nymphs. [photo by Tom]

Although the weather forecast had been favorable, some dark clouds made us question our chances of completing this gentle 5 mile hike without rain. We set out on our hike, enjoying encounters with some horses and riders, babbling waterfalls and lush green vegetation. As the first groups neared the intersection with the West Fork trail, the foreboding sky made them decide to turn back a little early. Others got to the end, took a few photos, and started back. We all made it back to the trailhead safe and dry, already missing the beauty of the hike.

Pinetop Brewery. [photo by Tom]
Time to relax. [photo by Tom]

Next, most of us converged upon the Pinetop Brewery, a very popular place even at 3 PM on a Labor Day weekend. Luckily we were able to secure tables and a good meal was enjoyed, before dispersing to our various hotels and house rentals.

Los Burros
  GPS Map 

The next morning, we met up in the parking lot of the Hon-Dah Casino at 6:30 AM and were greeted by a nice rainbow which had developed after a sunny rain shower in Show Low. We travelled the short distance to McNary and had to stop in the road to let a group of free-looking horses cross the road. One young foal wasn’t quite sure where to go, but made it across safely.

We then travelled for 7 miles on the well-maintained dirt road to the Los Burros campground. We parked near Joe’s RV and near a clean restroom very close to the trailhead. We then identified two groups: 9 people attempting the full 13 mile loop, 7 for the shorter 7.5 mile small loop. Everyone was on the trail by 7:15 AM.

Ready for the Los Burros Trail. [photo by Lin]
Jim, Joe, Carl, Terry, Heather, Michelle, Mark, Tamar, Tom, Debbie, Chris, Deidre, Bettye, Li, Barry
The trail takes us through lush greenery. [photo by Lin]
Trees are marked by diamonds. [photo by Tom]
Tom leads the way through a grove of trees. [photo by Li]
We’re not out of the woods yet. [photo by Li]
Li is ready for anything. [photo by Tom]
There’s nothing like a knee brace. [photo by Tom]
Chris and Debbie. [photo by Tom]

We hiked the first part together, a gentle stroll through verdant forest with a little hill at the ¾ mile mark. The White Mountain trail system has white diamonds on trees to mark the trail path every so often. The diamonds have the trail initial (LB for Los Burros) and numbers that correspond to points on the map. Pretty easy to follow, theoretically.

Even with planned 15 minute breaks every 4 miles, the group began to separate, with a slower hiker in the back, the front 9 long hikers and the other group a few miles behind as they waited to reunite their group.

At the major trail junction at 6 miles, we lost radio contact, even with the new radios (on low power), and the longer group took the right turn to continue on the outer loop of the trail.

Terry, Li, and Tom are having a good time. [photo by Lin]
Mark and Michelle are having a good day. [photo by Tom]

As it turns out, the shorter distance group soon found that they had a hiker in trouble, unable to continue, and they hiked back and spent hours awaiting rescue from the local Fire Department. Part of the issue was that the 911 operators had no knowledge of the White Mountain trail marking system and took a while, even with GPS coordinates, to locate the pick up point. However all ended safely, with a hiker transported on a thrilling ATV ride to the trailhead and a waiting ambulance and the other hikers back at the trailhead either by quickly hiking back or by ATV to beat the approaching thunderstorm.

The longer group continued on, through idyllic meadows and pine forests, up hills over valleys and crossing forest roads. Although there was a small chance of rain at 11 AM, we were graced by clear skies at that time. Only in the next hour did the sky begin the darken, but by this time, we were no closer to the trailhead by going back than by proceeding forward.

After a break to put on rain gear to try and ward off the storm, we continued on. The storm started with hail and a medium flow of rain, stopped, and restarted with a deluge enough to soak through socks and create a gulley of water flowing down the middle of the trail. Mud quickly formed, and thunder was loud and mostly in the distance except for one particularly loud crack.

Li puts on a rain jacket. [photo by Tom]
It’s all over for now. [photo by Tom]

Already wet and muddy, we picked up the pace the hiked the 3.5 miles back. Apparently the loop, billed in multiple places as 13 miles, was really closer to 15. We were all back at the cars by 1:30. The fastest hikers were lucky to have Joe’s RV to warm up in and bathrooms to change in. We left the trailhead and had no trouble with the mud or dirt road. In retrospect, although hiking in the storm was a bit of a thrill, it wasn’t a good idea. White Mountain storms are thunderstorms, and lightning is no joke. When the rain was predicted for 12 PM, we should have picked a route to have us safely back at the cars by then.

Also, new radios didn’t really help when the trees interrupted our communication between the groups even when 2 miles apart. In the future, we will be switching to the new high power channels, which will allow us to communicate better.

After the hike, we all cleaned up and began the process of drying packs and shoes out, and then converged on one of the rental homes for a potluck. We were delighted to eat homemade chicken curry, rainbow salad, roast beef sandwiches, tacos, quinoa salad, fresh tomato and egg drop soup, and a bevy of yummy desserts. Even a sprinkle of rain didn’t spoil the party.

Buena Vista Trail
  GPS Map 

Monday morning, we slept in a little and met at the trailhead, 4 miles south of Show Low on the 60. Ample parking awaited, but no facilities. We set out by 9 AM, following a mixture of the official trail and forest roads and paths, using the AllTrails app to navigate.

A few hikers planned a short 3 miles loop, but ended up hiking closer to 4 miles. The rest of us made a 6 mile loop. It was a little warm at 80 degrees and sporadic tree cover. We were also a little freaked out at one point seeing long bones hung by wire on trees along the trail (not the official trail). Who left the bones and what animal did they come from?

We got the whole group together. [photo by Lin]
Jim, Joe, Heather, Debbie, Michelle, Bettye, Tom, Tamar, Li, Mark, Barry, Chris, Lin, Carl
All right.  Which way do we go? [photo by Tom]
This way seems to be right. [photo by Tom]
Let’s go this way. [photo by Li]
The trail looks more suited to mountain bikers. [photo by Lin]
Let’s enjoy the hike anyway! [photo by Lin]
Like I way saying ... [photo by Li]

This hike was nice, but not as lush as the others we had done at higher elevation. It is nice to know an “in town” hike in Show Low, but these trails seem more suited to beginning and intermediate mountain bikers than to summer hikers. We did see some wild-looking horses and some fields of flowers. We finished the hike before noon and then went our separate ways back to the Valley.

It was a great Labor Day weekend with good friends, good hikes and good food. The trails were deliberately chosen and timed to avoid being on summits during thunderstorms. Higher peaks will wait for us in the fall, when the weather is more consistent.

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updated September 8, 2019